Archives for April 2011

How To Untether Your Business And Work Anywhere

It is almost strange in these days of wide spread smart phone adoption that we are talking about this because some days, it seems to me everyone is ‘mobile’. Yet, judging from the questions and comments we receive, I am proved wrong and so I’d like to share some thoughts on how I made gradual changes to my business so now, I no longer have to be in my office and at my desk all day long if I choose.

Before going too far I must say that not all businesses or entrepreneurs require, want or can be mobile. If you own a wedding cake business, obviously you can’t work from anywhere. However there are parts of any business that could be.

In our business, I do a variety of things. Some examples are blogging, writing guest posts, appearing on web casts, creating written and video content, fixing or tweaking web sites and of course application programming.

At this point in time, I still have not found a good way to program or fix web sites on the go. The reasons are varied but it is largely because there are certain programming environments I need to have access to that just aren’t available on a mobile device or if they do it’s plain uncomfortable. Give me a power house desktop and multiple monitors any time for that kind of work.

However there are plenty of other areas where I can implement mobility. Like, content creation, communicating with customers and followers on social networks or email, brain storming, project planning, team management. You get the idea. These are things you just don’t have to do in the office or for that matter need a computer to accomplish.

With that in mind, I started looking for tools that can help me write, brain storm, communicate and manage from anywhere.

One of the first things I purchased was not a smart phone surprisingly, but a Livescribe pen. If you didn’t have to be in touch with anyone at all this pen alone would suffice. It has really been great. Here is a short list of some ways I’ve used it:

  • Record conversations with clients as we went over their web site and hashed out wants, likes, changes
  • Write articles for distribution, affiliates and blog posts at the beach
  • Brainstorm new projects, company direction and focus at the park
  • Wrote standard operating procedures including sketches etc to share with helpers so they know exactly what I want and how I want it done
  • Record and note important points listening to an MP3 while traveling

The next thing I did, was to consciously seek out and utilize tools that are not desktop bound and when I say desktop I also mean laptop. I’ve never really been a fan of laptops and would much rather not carry one if I can carry something many times lighter and smaller.

Back to the tools, when choosing them I also made it a point to ensure the tool has either a mobile app or mobile interface. While I placed a high value on this, it was not entirely necessary depending on what the system is because if the program is accessible online, most modern smart phone browsers can handle it. Here’s a rough list of what I ended up implementing:

  • Our payment system was not a problem because we already utilize a web based shopping cart and set everything up for automatic delivery. For the service portion of our business, we used Zoho Invoice which is also web based and we will soon be switching to another script also web based but installed on our servers.
  • For emails, I put our domain on Google Apps that allowed me the use of Gmail, Google Docs and other applications under our domain name. This actually took care of more than just emails but document sharing and calendars.
  • When it comes to task and project management, I specifically seek out web apps that can be tied into Google Apps. I’m still moving back and forth between a few solutions with no concrete decision which yet but as of now, it’s a close race between ManyMoon and GQueues.
  • In other areas, I chose Evernote and Dropbox.

Lastly, I upgraded my phone. While I’ve always had a smart phone, I felt it was important to switch to a different platform that offers more current and popular apps and also one that the tools chosen above supported. Because I made sure the tools I used had mobile options in the step above, this part was like riding downhill. It just ‘fell in place’. All I needed to do was to get and install the mobile apps.

Somewhere along the way I also added a tablet. It does not get as much use as the phone though. And now, I have everything I need to stay productive no matter where I am and even at very short notice. A wonderful example was when my husband asked me to accompany him on several trips to a nearby city these past 2 months. Without having to think too much about it, all I needed to do was pick up the phone, my Livescribe pen and notebook. I’m good to go.

Have you gone mobile too? What do you use most? Do you like it? Do share use the comments space to share.

How Should Professional and Personal Social Media Presences Differ?

Wake up! It’s 2011 — If you’re a professional in any field, you need to be doing social media. If you aren’t connected, the world is completely blind to you. But there is an inherent problem with maintaining a professional social media presence, and it stems from social networking’s humble beginnings. Most people began doing social media as a personal hobby, connecting with friends, family, and having care-free fun on their networks of choice.

Once you establish a new, separate professional account for yourself or your business, it’s an entirely new game. How should you differentiate between your two online lives? What behavior is appropriate, and is a personal presence even all that personal anymore? Today we explore how to successfully nurture both online presences without stepping on your own toes.

Overlap is Okay to a Degree

Before launching any personal or professional social media, you need to determine your intentions for each campaign. Keep in mind that it is perfectly reasonable for there to be some overlap here, just as there is surely overlap between your life at home and at work. Non-profit business resource Big Duck advises you to “Consider your personal goals and those of the organization you work for. Where do these goals meet and how do they differ?”

Imagine that the company you work for (or own) is in the business of animal rescue, care, and adoption. You probably want your professional page to discuss your latest rescues, the pets you have up for adoption, and touch people’s hearts with stories and photographs of your work. At the same time, you need to appear as an expert in the field of animal care, and your personal page should reflect this interest by sharing more intimate musings on your work and passions. Be careful not to spam your friends and family with re-postings of everything your business does — this will annoy them fast.

Both Should Focus on Relationship Building

You may be surprised to learn that your professional social media presence will consist of almost as much relationship-building as your personal one. Gone are the days of clear division between “Businesses” and “Friends”; the best professionals make their business relationships feel as cordial and important as their personal ones.

Social Media Magic tells us that in 2011, success with professional social media demands that you treat your social presence this way. “The businesses that are making the most money off social media are the ones that spend the most time nurturing genuine relationships,” they report. “The only way to manage your professional relationships this year is to work at them – like you do with your real friends.”

Don’t waste time crafting emotionless reports to blast out and then disappear for days at a time, hoping that conversation will magically occur — this is the old way of doing things. People don’t log onto Facebook or Twitter to be preached to, they come for interaction and conversation. This isn’t to say you should be sharing your baby pictures with your latest joint-venture partner, but it does mean you should keep up with your professional connections and engage them in appropriate, meaningful discussion.

Be Aware of Your Personal Social Behavior

If it hasn’t been made clear by now, nothing is private on the Internet. The safest assumption you can make is that absolutely everything you publish on your personal page can and will be read by everyone you come into contact with. This includes your upper-managers, business partners, interviewers, etc — you need to watch over your profile like a hawk.

Put another way, it isn’t appropriate to keep pictures of your last-ever college keg party on your personal page, and allow friends to post comments about how “wild Atlantic City was last night.” The Internet is the eternal public stage, and all someone has to do is point the spotlight at you to reveal everything you bring to the performance. Don’t assume that just because you show people your professional page they won’t find your personal one. Nine times out of ten they will, so tread lightly.

Determine Your Two “Positioning Statements”

Social media makes it so simple to do so much that it can be very easy to lose sight of your purpose online. To effectively make decisions about what you should and shouldn’t do with each of your presences, you need to remember why you’re there.

Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish this is by designing two separate social “positioning statements,” one for your professional and one for your personal campaign. Big Duck describes this as, “The big idea you want people to associate with you,” and provides the following template for designing them:

“I am a ___________ in _________ for __________.”

Once you’ve carefully thought about these statements and filled in the blanks, keep them by your computer. Whenever you find yourself questioning your social activity, re-read them and ask whether what you’re doing is in line with these goals.

Be More Accessible With Your Professional Presence

Most social media outlets now offer a number of privacy settings, and its only natural to wonder how public you should make each of your presences. With your professional media, the answer is to be as open and accessible as possible. Social Media Magic likens this to treating your customers and business connections like friends. “That’s how you build a real relationship with your community. Friends expect you to always be there for them!” they proclaim. “They expect to be contacted, filled in about your life and asked to participate in it.”

On the other side, your personal presence might either be completely locked down or as open as your professional one. This decision depends entirely on your personal positioning statement and the goals you have for that presence. If your intentions are simply to maintain a close-knit community of friends and family, share pictures and talk on a very casual level, you should treat it like an exclusive club that only very important people are given access to.

Don’t Over Think It

As important as it is to think about the differences between your personal and professional campaigns, you should keep in mind that few deals are ever closed by online image alone. Social media should be seen as a way to establish relationships and wet mouths, but never as a substitute for in-person or by-phone relationship building. To that end, remember the principles for sound social media management and adhere to your separate online purposes, but don’t spend too much time endlessly optimizing your pages when you could alternatively seek out those who are already interested in working with you in person.

Additional Resources: Visit Invesp.com to learn about Invesp landing page design.

4 Sources that can help you finance your small business

If you are starting off a small business or are in need of finances to boost up your small business, then you would need to take the help of small business loans. A small business is a business that is restricted to only a few individuals. It is not even listed and does not need the amount of finance that would go into running a big business. In order to fulfill the finance needs of your small business you would need to take out loans. However, it is important for you to know that most investors would not like to invest money in your business and most lenders would also not like to lend you money. This is because as per a common belief it is a greater credit risk to invest in small business.

This should not deter you from seeking to get help. You should understand that even if investors are apprehensive about investing in your small business there are many sources from where you may get finance for the improvement of your business.

If you are starting a small business and wish to take out some loan, then the sources or the places that you should consider for taking out the loan are as follows.

  1. Seeking help from investors: Some inventors are very apprehensive about investing in small businesses but they are still an important source from which you may get loans. An investor can be anyone, an individual or some other business that plans to invest in your venture. You must understand that an investor will invest or loan you money only if they think that your business is interesting enough and has the possibility of flourishing in the future. Such investors will be investing in your business and in return will be expecting a share in the business. As they will become a part of your business they may also provide you with some advice which may become very beneficial for you.
  2. Taking loans from finance companies or banks: One of the most common sources of getting loans for your small business is banks. They provide you with the loan in the form of bank overdrafts. You may also get loans for your small business from various finance companies that are willing to take the chance by investing in your small business.
  3. Opting for the help from government agencies: When you are running a small business or planning to start off one and are in need of finances, then the government agencies can help you out. It is essential to remember that the government agencies do not provide you with the loans directly. The agencies only provide guarantee to the money lenders and the banks that provide you with the loan. This implies that in the event of you defaulting on the loan that has been provided, the government will pay the lender a part of the loan. Thus, the guarantee ensures that the lender is at lower risk of losing out on the full loan amount in case your small business is not successful. So the guarantee provided by the agencies makes lending safer and also makes getting loans easier for you. Thus, although the government agencies do not provide you with the loan directly it still helps you greatly in getting the loan and is considered to be one of the most important sources from which you can get finances for your small business.
  4. Asking from family and friends: It may be difficult for a third party to completely understand your business plans. However, when it comes to your family or your friends, then the understanding is better. They may invest in your business as they believe in you and know you.
      These are a few sources that you may consider in case you need finances for your small business.

What Are The Most Common Mistakes That Small Businesses Make

Businesses don’t come with owner’s manuals, you have to write your own. As you might imagine, the unfamiliar challenges you face as a business owner are yours and yours alone to grapple with. While every business will face its own unique hurdles, there are several mistakes that seem to crop up for the majority of new executives. To avoid the most severe errors, please be on the look out for the following mistakes.

Not Knowing Your Target Market

A shocking number of businesses cannot articulate in a few sentences who their typical customer is. The common characteristics and personality types of their target market remain somewhat of a mystery as their marketing teams tries to reach the greatest number of people possible with their new message. This is a dangerous strategy, considering that “everybody” does not buy your product, a specific group of people do.

Ultimately, business is often about customers buying the product, not the product itself. Thus, you must start with an understanding of why your customers buy your products and work from there. Are your customers mostly young or old, college kids or CEOs, accountants or moms? Constraining your marketing efforts to exclude everyone not in your target market may seem limiting, but doing so may drastically increase your profit margins and provide you with a better understanding of your unique buyer.

Management By Crisis

There are many management styles that business owners can operate under, but by far the most dangerous (and unfortunately quite common in the early days of a company) is management by crisis. Essentially, this management style means that you are always reacting to problems rather than proactively moving forward. If the only time you pay close attention to your business is when something is going wrong, that’s management by crisis.

Management by crisis can be poisonous because it keeps a business stuck in neutral. On the good days, everyone cheers, but no one may push any harder. Then something goes wrong and it becomes a mad dash to restore the status quo. Effective management means paying the most attention to your business when things are going well so that you can learn from your victories and grow from there. Strive to prevent a crises rather than simply responding to them.

Not Systematizing Work

Too many business owners deal with each job as it comes. What they fail to realize is that many of their tasks have similar qualities and characteristics that may always need to be handled the same way. For example, if you own a web design firm, each of your websites might need the same tracking code, shopping cart implementation, and branding elements.

By figuring out what these common tasks are, you can systematize the work by defining step-by-step guides for completing jobs. Creating systems allows tasks to be completed with less mistakes, and in less time each time they come around. Look around your business for reoccurring tasks and seek to set systems in place for how they are to be completed each and every time.

Not Being Open To Change

Paul Graham, a notable venture capitalist and co-founder of seed funding firm Y-Combinator, says that “In some fields the way to succeed is to have a vision of what you want to achieve, and to hold true to it no matter what setbacks you encounter.” Getting an Olympic medal is one such example. Business, he argues, is a lot more like science in that you have to follow the path wherever it leads.

The lesson Graham is imparting here is to stick to your business plan, but be willing to adjust to circumstances when they arise. Your customers, through their buying behavior and feedback, will tell you what they want from your product. Don’t fight it — be willing to embrace it. It’s like Graham says, “If you want a recipe for a startup that’s going to die, here it is: a couple of founders who have some great idea they know everyone is going to love, and that’s what they’re going to build, no matter what.”

Spreading Focus Too Thin

The best businesses you know do one or two things and do them very well. Rare is the company that goes a mile wide and an inch deep and turns a sizable profit. Consider a new company diving into web design, property management, file sharing, and affiliate marketing — this is an extreme example to be sure, but there is no doubt that this business would quickly crash and burn. There is simply too much to know in each domain for any one team to do them all well.

Take Google for example. Sure, now they offer a wide variety of products, but they got to where they are by being the best at search. Had they never buckled down and dedicated themselves to that one goal, we might never care when they came out with new products today. The trick is to find the niche you can serve best, and throw all of your efforts into it. If opportunities for expansion become sensible down the road, consider them when the time is right.

Only Considering Current Competition

World famous hokey player Wayne Gretzky once offered the advice, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Applied to new businesses, this means that you must try to have foresight and anticipate competition that may not be prevalent or mainstream yet. If you’re in a market where you don’t believe you have any competition, it means one of two things. It could mean you don’t have an economically viable idea, as Paul Graham explains “You can only avoid competition by avoiding good ideas.”

There is another possibility, though. It could mean that your competition is still so small that they aren’t yet visible to you. Like you, they could be holed up in a tiny office or bedroom somewhere plowing away at your very product. Keep this in mind as you work, and try to anticipate moves from a small company closing in on your same niche. By keeping this in mind, it will increase your odds of not being caught by a surprise competitor jumping onto your scene.

Additional comment: A great example of a company that has avoided these mistakes and is continuing to grow is the auto insurance company Allstate.

Web v/s Offline Channels-Misguided!

Lately I’ve been listening to so-called marketing experts touting the values of online marketing as opposed to offline marketing. In defence of their position, they describe traditional marketing channels as the old and tired channels. Using survey results, they boast the participation numbers of social media. One speaker, compared these numbers against the fact that most advertising money is still spent on traditional media, and this choice was proof that business just isn’t getting it.

My opinion is that these experts are absolutely misguided in their stance that media channels should be one or the other. All or none. One HUGE disadvantage of social media is in fact their size. In order to become viral you first have to be discovered. If this was so easy, we’d all be going viral at will. Where online is fantastic is that you don’t NEED an enormous budget, but it would certainly be a huge advantage. Online marketing is said to be the great equalizer, while true, still relies on being found which exactly why search is one of the keys to your success online, this is all pull. The area online line soars is in relationship development. This adds an entirely new dynamic to marketing that is outstanding in its effectiveness in driving sales and building trust.

Traditional on the other hand is all push. You put your message in front of the eyes of your customers whether they want to see it or not. When you drive past a billboard you are exposed to a message. You didn’t search out the board, it pushed the message out to you. Television, radio, newspaper, bill boards etc. all force their message into your cranium. That is awareness, pure and simple. Large database driven web sites like eHarmony.com, MatchMaker.com, Expedia etc. all rely on good old fashioned awareness to drive traffic to their sites and ultimately into their databases. They recognize that there is no magic bullet to driving traffic. They use ALL media to their advantage.

To pitch online against offline is fool hardy. All are tools in your marketing tool box. From my point of view, any new tool is welcome and embraced. One is no better than the other, what is better is the fit. Based on your goals, use the tools based on your resources at hand. Don’t brush off traditional marketing because it’s “old fashioned”. The reason more advertising dollars are going toward traditional media is because it works. Budweiser is not going to spend millions on a Super Bowl ad if they are not getting the awareness they desire. This is not to say that online marketing is a waste – NOTHING is a waste, awareness is key for all of us to put a little extra coin in our pockets. The smart marketer embraces all channels to their advantage. Cross-channeling is the best way to leveraging the unique benefits of each for the common goal – your success!

Business Overboard – Staying Afloat in Congested Digital Waters

Small businesses have enough on their plate at the moment simply making ends meet. As a result of the economic downturn and reduced consumer confidence there is just less and less money to go around.

In these times of squeezing personal budgets and the resultant squeeze upon your business, you may not have considered the potential power of your business website to help address the problem.

Your online presence

Do you have a commercial website for your business?

For those that do have a fully functional business website, does it attract visitors which subsequently turn into customers? The fact is that many smaller businesses have some form of online presence but just do not know how to maximise it. Spending a little time addressing your online business ‘address’ may well be the answer to many of your problems.

The old adage ‘if you build it, they will come’ does not really apply to websites in cyberspace today. Long ago when the internet was filled with just a few million web pages the chances are, you could be easily found and your services offered.

Not in today’s’ internet I am afraid.

The Mighty Google

Even during the infancy of the mighty Google which established itself during 1998 and immediately indexed over 26 million pages, saw that figure rise to over a billion in just two short years. In 2008 it revealed a massive one trillion URL’s had been catalogued and this number just keeps increasing.

This just illustrates the amazing popularity of the web and just how saturated it has become. Therefore, gaining a foothold for your business in these congested digital waters is difficult to say the least.
It is however not impossible, in fact with the right direction it can be quite a simple process.

There are a number of basic fundamental aspects to getting your site appreciated by the search engines and therefore ‘presented’ to searchers. By considering these fundamentals and applying them to your website you stand a much better chance of being recognised online.

4 Simple Steps You Can Use to Review Your Business

1. Title tags – are your title tags () used to display the headings of the pages on your website?

This important tag is one of the first a search engine spider will pick up and needs to contain information relating to the page. This is the tab at the top of the browser window which displays the title of the page. It is also the title which is displayed within the search engines results page and therefore needs to be clear and enticing enough for users to click.

2. Heading tags – do you make use of the H1, H2, H3, H4 tags within your content?

These are highly valued by search engines to help them establish just what your content is about. Think of your page content as a newspaper article, with headings separating the different sections of content on the page.

3. Description tags – are they fully completed and do they contain relevant information?

Again, this something which is used by search engines but more importantly is the snippet of information which is presented to users within the index. A good description and compelling call to action will dramatically increase your visitors.

4. Site Structure and navigation

This is a big issue, does your website have a good linking pattern and is it easy for users to travel around the site? User behaviour is very similar to that of a search engine spider in that links to different pages will be followed by both the visitor and the bot. If you have pages which are not visible from the home page both visitors and bots will not be able to find them.

These are just a small sample of actions you can take to review your small business website which if implemented should serve to better your website for both visitors and search engines.

Marketing Gift Certificates – Key Benefits And Strategies For a Small Business

Gift certificates are a great way to make more sales and increase customer loyalty for your business. The returns on investment can be great provided you focus on effective marketing strategies. First, let’s review what benefits a sensible gift certificate marketing strategy should bring you:

Increase sales

Gift certificates work. They help you make more sales by reaching new customers, and they will also increase your sales for other reasons: indeed, most customers will spend more than face value of the card (on average, 20 percent more). A minority (about 10 percent) will use only part of the certificate’s value, which means you keep the profits.

Improve cash flow

When someone buys a gift certificate, they are pre-paying you for services that another person will receive later. In other words, gift certificate sales really represent cash deposits or full payments for services planned for well in the future, which means 100 percent of the cash is yours to use until the certificate is redeemed.

Increase Brand Awareness

Gift certificates give you the opportunity to advertise and promote your business with wallet-sized billboards. You were already paid because of the sale of the gift certificates, so you are allowing new customers to try out your business with a paid visit from your existing customers.

Gift certificate marketing objectives

Your gift certificate marketing strategy should target the following objectives:

  • Communicating the fact that gift certificates are available and are a popular and desirable gift
  • Conveying the relevance, variety and quality of the gift certificate; offer upsells such as metal tins, boxes and die-cut envelopes for a distinctive touch and to add to the fun
  • Reinforcing the “convenience” benefit of purchasing gift certificates
  • Building awareness of your gift certificate program through inclusion of certificates in print, direct mail, e-mail, online, and other advertising opportunities

Gift certificate marketing ideas

Impulse purchase

You should place all gift certificate designs on a highly visible, easily accessible, well-organized page on your website, as well as on your confirmations and receipts, which will appeal to impulse purchasers. Big stores all have their gift cards at that location, that’s because it works.

Partnership

A very effective way to market your gift certificates is to partner with another local business. The way it works is that you offer gift certificates for the other business, and they would do the same. It works better if your businesses are somehow related, or could attract the same category of customers.

Personalization & Diversification

Gift certificates are usually given for special occasions: birthday, Christmas, graduation etc. Make sure that you have a wide array of gift certificates so that you can accommodate all gifting desires. Having unique designs and personalization options like space to write a personal message helps. You can also have designs that appeal to corporate customers, so that you don’t miss potential sales.

Reciprocal agreement

Reciprocal agreement is a widely used sales technique meaning that you first give an item to somebody. The sense of reciprocation, deeply rooted in human social behavior, makes the customer want to give something back. You could offer a gift certificate of small value to a person visiting your shop for the first time. Reciprocal agreement kicks in and you have turned a visitor into a customer, likely along with a juicy purchase.

Liking

Liking means that we are more sensitive to people we like, like our friends, and so we value more advice or opinion coming from them than coming from a stranger. This is also a widely used sales technique. For example, at checkout time, you could offer a gift certificate to a customer and to his best friend (if that still makes economic sense to you). That will act as a referral and you’ve secured a new customer, your customer’s best friend.

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